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Why There's No Shame in Taking Medication for Mental Health

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I’ve been an anxious person for as long as I can remember. When I was about 9, I started dealing with obsessive thoughts: “oh no, I just thought of a bad word. Am I still a good kid?” Then the running to my parents for validation that I was, indeed, a good kid, ensued.

In middle school and high school, the obsessions changed to fearing my friends were going to change on me. “They’re wearing something they’ve never worn before. Are they suddenly changing interests? They suddenly like something they’ve always said they didn’t. Does this mean I’m losing them?”

As ridiculous as it may sound, these thoughts were very real at the time. This is the nature of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The thing is, you don’t want to think bad thoughts. You don’t want your friends to move on without you. However, the more you don’t want these things, the more your brain sabotages itself and convinces you otherwise.

Once I hit college, I was going into full-blown rituals. Everything had to be done “just right” or else I had to do it over again. It would sometimes take me almost two hours to shower and get dressed. OCD can definitely own you.

Fast forward about five years; I had graduated from college with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and was working my first full-time job in mental health. My OCD had settled down for the most part after some time had passed. I was doing quite well.

Then, about two years later, I started to experience a change in my moods. I would experience anxiety for no apparent reason, followed by low feelings. This went on for several months until I finally decided to seek help.

I went to my doctor and explained to the PA what had been going on. I broke down and cried right then and there. I was prescribed a SSRI, and little did I know I was on the path to seeing better days.

Upon taking it, I started to notice a change pretty quickly. I felt more at ease. I didn’t feel as anxious, and I didn’t really experience any lows. I was finally feeling the way I was meant to feel.

Over the next several years, I continued to evaluate myself and did a lot of introspection. I was gradually introduced to additional medications for some of the concerns I had had about myself for many years, however finally got the answers I so desperately sought. I was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) after being convinced I had it since I was 12, and was put on medication. Another medication was added when I noticed I felt down and very lethargic during the winter, and it’s also a twofer: it doubles as help for ADHD as well. After my ADHD, OCD and anxiety diagnoses came at 25, I was in a good place. Next came a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome at 31 after continuing to learn more and more about myself.

My blend of medications has been more helpful than I can explain. It has helped me go from anxious and scatterbrained to cool as a cucumber, as well as focused and in the zone. Psychiatric medication has an awful stigma attached to it, but the answer is, why? If you’re diabetic, you take something to balance your blood sugar. If you have high blood pressure, you take something to reduce it. How are medications used to treat chemical imbalances in the brain any different? All I know is, I now feel the way I’m supposed to feel: like me.

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

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Thinkstock photo via dolgachov

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When You Look at Me, You Might Not Know I’m Struggling With Mental Illness

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A common misconception around mental health is that you need to be completely incapacitated and at rock bottom to get help. To be honest, this is why I put off going to the doctors and seeing a psychologist for so long. I didn’t think it was bad enough, and honestly, I believed that if I got help, someone else who had it worse than me wouldn’t be able to, and I didn’t want to do that to anyone.

I now realize this was a bit of an excuse on my behalf. I was just too anxious to get help. Let me tell you — you deserve to get help if you’re struggling. It doesn’t matter how bad it is. I now know that, and that is the one thing I want everyone else to know.

You see, when you look at me, you might not necessarily see someone struggling. You might see someone who looks a bit nervous, shy and quiet, but chances are, you have no idea what is happening in my brain. You cannot fully see my anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and self-harm at a glance. You probably think of me as someone who is “high-functioning” and couldn’t possibly be struggling. I have always been the straight A student who is involved in everything — the one on the committees and the sports teams. The one who volunteers and can travel the world alone. The one who is super organized and is always there for everyone else. The one who can say a speech in front of 200 people without being phased.

I am all these things. But I also have severe anxiety and OCD.

Lately, things have got on top of me, and I wouldn’t necessarily say I am still “high-functioning.” Lately, the bar has had to be set a bit lower — lets go outside once today, lets do 10 minutes of study, lets try and eat something, lets try and stay safe and alive, lets try to stay out of the hospital. I’m down to one course at university and my current goal is to do something sociable at least once a week. But you see, I think that less than 10 people have the slightest clue that I’m not just “a little bit nervous” anymore. I think this is something that is so important to remember: no one knows what someone else might be going through.

So many people struggle with mental health issues, but you often can’t tell who these people are. I’ve struggled with mental illness, and most of the time, I probably seem like a person who has it all together.

So just remember, don’t assume. If someone is struggling, don’t dismiss them if their life seems perfect from your perspective. And if you are struggling, but are saying things like I said for a long time like, “I must be fine because I can do X, Y and Z,” don’t try to push through it alone. The sooner you get help the better. If I had gotten help and seen someone while I was still at school, I think my life would have been remarkably different. This is why we’ve got to keep talking openly about mental health, so people know that they don’t have to do it all alone.

Because mental illness doesn’t discriminate.

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20 Little Ways to Support Someone Struggling With Mental Illness

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The belief that many people who are depressed, suicidal, anxious or struggle with a chronic conditions are “doing it for attention” is not usually accurate. Most of the time, we don’t want to be bothered, or rather, we don’t want to bother you with the demons we’re hiding. But sometimes, offering us a helping hand or a caring thought can be enough to show us that you are here and supporting us in this fight.

 

Here are 20 little ways you can show a friend, family member or coworker you are there for them when they are struggling:

1. Ask them if they’ve been sleeping OK.

2. Ask if they’ve had anything to eat.

3. Ask them if they’ve been taking their medications.

4. Ask them if they’d like to talk about anything.

5. Ask them about one of their favorite memories.

6. Make them a cup of tea or coffee, whatever they find more soothing.

7. Cook them dinner.

8. Make a date with them. Whether they are a partner, friend or sibling, it doesn’t matter. Just spending time with them can be comforting.

9. Craft together — paint, draw, sculpt or crochet.

10. Make a list of reasons that you love them. And give it to them.

11. Tell them about your day. This can bring them out of their own head.

12. Tell them a joke.

13. Tell them a secret. Show them that you trust and believe in them.

14. Tell them a story or share one of your favorite memories with them.

15. Tell them about a recent movie you’ve seen or book you’ve read.

16. Offer to do their dishes, their laundry or help them clean.

17. Offer to go somewhere with them. Get out of the house and do something fun.

18. Offer to paint their nails or do their makeup. Being pampered is a wonderful feeling.

19. Offer to brush or style their hair for them. If they’re anything like me, nothing is more calming than a soothing touch.

20. Offer to go for a walk or do yoga with them. Exercise is truly a great medicine when everything else feels like it is falling apart.

Nothing on this list takes all that much time. But they take enough time to show someone you care. And sometimes, small gestures that show you are worth it to others is enough. 

We don’t money, gifts or extravagant distractions. We just need love and acceptance.

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6 Ways to Help Manage Your Mental Health That Won't Break the Bank

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I’ve been in and out of therapy most of my life. And now that I’m an “adult,” I have to deal with the financial reality that my mental health comes with: treating my mind is expensive! You see, I’ve dealt with anxiety since I was a little kid and was more recently diagnosed as bipolar 2. I have to see a psychiatrist, take medications, alter my daily life to accommodate lots of self-care, and (in theory) see a therapist.

The therapist became my trickiest problem to solve. I’m already spending several hundred dollars out of pocket each month because my “grown up” health insurance plan is a high deductible one (meaning I’m responsible for all costs until I spend a certain amount). Traditional therapists that were recommended to me were going to cost me another $120/session out of pocket when run through my insurance.

I’m just not making enough money to add an additional $480/month (at minimum) to my mental health care. And I’m not alone here — financial barriers are one of the top reasons people skip mental health care all together. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness about 1 in 5 adults in the US experience some form of mental illness, and only 41 percent of these adults get treatment!

 

Mental health treatment needs to be more affordable and accessible, and it can be very overwhelming to figure out what to do to take care of your mental health when all of the traditional services are out of your price range. I went several months after my bipolar diagnosis without therapy, but I did a lot of research on/tested out what I could do on my own to help myself at a price I can afford. Here are my suggestions to help manage your mental health that won’t break the bank:

1. Cut out booze/caffeine/sugar.

I didn’t say these suggestions were going to be easy-peasy, but this one really is a game changer. Alcohol is a depressant and if you are on any sort of medication for your mind, you are more than likely reducing the effectiveness of the meds every time you imbibe. Caffeine and sugar are stimulants that can agitate your prone-to-anxiety mind.

2. Eat well/move your body/sleep.

What does the body good also benefits your mind. If you tend to comfort yourself with food, it helps to start out small instead of overhauling your entire diet. Work towards moving your body every day — even if it’s just taking a walk. Make sleep a top priority — everything else can wait. Your body needs to be well maintained to be healthy physically and mentally.

3. Meditation/yoga.

Learning to focus on your breath is super helpful when your mind is going haywire. Mindfulness is the key to learning to use your breath in these instances and meditation and yoga are the tolls to teach you this skill. Search the internet for guided meditations if your new to meditation, or start taking some yoga classes. Vinyasa yoga is especially good for teaching you to link movement and breath.

4. Get outside and absorb some sunlight.

Ever heard of seasonal affective disorder? Our bodies can literally get more depressed when it doesn’t get enough vitamin D. And when we are anxious we tend to hide inside and stick to the lights pouring from our electronic screens. Get outside, even for five minutes. Sit in the sun, walk around the block, read a book on a park bench. The vitamin D, fresh air and
change of scenery will do wonders for your mind.



5. Quit that job or ask for more support.

I had to quit my traditional corporate job in order to take care of my mind. Not everyone has to make this extreme of a change, but our jobs tend to be a pretty high source of stress for a lot of people. Take a look at why your job is stressing you out and seek out what you can do. Maybe you can ask for accommodations, start applying to jobs that fit your needs more or maybe you just need to take a mental health day.

If your job is not the cause of your stress, I encourage you to just ask for more help. Stop trying to make everything work on your own. Ask for help with the chores, errands, kids. Or even just ask for someone to let you vent to them.

6. Online support.

There are now a lot of therapists, social workers and life coaches offering services online at a much more affordable price compared to traditional therapy sessions. I have an online therapist now and it has been an amazing experience for me.

There are also a lot of online chat forums that are free for people to get instant support. Most of the time you’ll talk with someone who have gone through what you are experiencing.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

Thinkstock photo via BrianAJackson 

6 Ways to Help Manage Your Mental Health That Won't Break the Bank
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A Therapist Gives Relationship Advice for People With Mental Illness in Popular Twitter Thread

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Being in a good, supportive relationship with someone you love is a wonderful thing — but even good, supportive relationships take work. Quinn Gee, a therapist based in D.C., knows this all too well, and in an educational and widely-shared Twitter thread, Gee gave some important tips for couples facing mental illness.

Gee noted this wasn’t necessarily information she gained from personal experience, but rather what she noticed after working with people in a clinical setting.

Gee also stressed that you can have a healthy relationship while battling mental illness. Like every relationship, you just have to put the work in. For those whose partners have a mental illness, this work may include supporting them when their symptoms flare, being understanding when they have a bad day and more. And although it’s easy to get discouraged, Gee had some great tips for making a relationship work when one or both of you have a mental illness.

Here are some of the tips she shared:

To continue the conversation, we asked people in our mental health community to share one “relationship tip” they would give a couple tackling mental illness together. Here’s what they told us:

1. “Just understand they aren’t their mental illness, that they don’t actually want to behave this way. I tell my fiancée this all the time, I have really bad anxiety so when I start asking questions, get frustrated really easy or even say things I don’t mean, it’s just anxiety coming out.” — Tim B.

2. “Lots of constant validation! You might think the person you love knows how much you love them, but negative self-talk and rumination can lead us to believe the opposite. Show them you love them through small actions, remembering the little stuff, but also tell them out loud how much they are loved. We tend to forget and trick ourselves into thinking there’s not a single person out there who loves us.” — Emma S.

3. “Communication and a lot of patience. I struggle myself, and my boyfriend is amazing. We have been together 10 years, needless to say, he’s patient and I try to communicate if I don’t know why I feel a certain way for no reason, or if there is a reason, what that reason is. I try to give people a manual with how to deal with me. Somehow they use it as a way to hurt me the most. Except my bf… he uses it to do the smallest things to make things easier, better, more comfortable. It’s the little things.” — Jenny R.

4. “1. Don’t belittle your partner’s experiences by saying, ‘So and so is worse off than you’ or ‘Just think positive.’  2. Let your partner know you’re there for them (we don’t always know what we need you to do for us) and mean it. 3. Reassure them in various ways. When you text, ‘Call me,’ say why you need them to call you. Check in with them. Remind them they are loved! 4. Take a mental health first aid class. It will help you and your partner be more on the same page.” — Nicole C.

5. “I’m bipolar II, depressive and anxiety-ridden. The biggest tip I can give anyone who has a partner with mental illness is patience. My husband is so patient with me, it’s a serious blessing. We still fight and have disagreements, who doesn’t, but overall his patience is life saving. When I’m depressed or manic, he never expects me to rush into anything, he gives me room and helps me through things without getting mad. I really couldn’t get along without his love and kindness, he is my warrior.” — Dana B.

6. “Try to understand their illness isn’t about you. You did nothing wrong… I really struggled with my fiancé’s anxiety for a long time, but I learned that even when you don’t understand or know what to say, just be there. Don’t be another person to walk away because their illness. It’s hard. There’s good days and bad days. Make the most of the good and try to take something from the bad.” —Kevin M.

7. “For the person living with a mental illness, I would say communication is key. Don’t bottle all your emotions up because they will drag you to a very dark place. Emotions are very complex and even if you don’t understand what’s happening to you, communicate just that to your partner…You two will create such a beautiful unbreakable bond as you both grow and forge through this!” — Immaculate E.

8. “You need to listen. You need to be completely open minded. You have to be strong for them, because there are times when they can’t be. If they need time, give it to them. They don’t need a lot, but what they don’t need is negativity and hurtful words. Be and ear and a shoulder.” — Joshua R.

9. “Understand I don’t want or need fixing, I am very aware of how my brain works. I have days of self-care because they are important, I have routine because it is needed and most important, what may seem like a tantrum to you because you changed our plans last minute is the end of the world for me in that moment.” — Paula C.

10. “1. They aren’t their mental illness 2. Patience is everything 3. Don’t force them to do something they don’t want to. 4. Be there for their ups and downs. 5. Space space space. 6. Don’t say ‘someone has it worse,’ ‘get over it,’ ‘if you love me then you’ll stop this,’ because it makes their feelings that are very real for them invalid. 7. Love them with no strings attached.” — Erica K.

11. “Acknowledge their behavior may not always mirror their true feelings. Anxiety and depression can cause us to second guess ourselves, our relationships, make us scared of the future and cause us to make bad decisions that push our loved ones away and later come back to haunt us. Also, be aware of their treatment regimen. Something as simple as changing the dose on a person’s meds can have a radical effect on their emotions and behavior.” — Craig M.

12. “Figure out what your boundaries are. Your partner has an illness and will need care, they will be sick, they may not always act like themselves. As their partner you need to know where your lines are. And be clear on that. And take care of yourself.” — Amanda S.

13. “I have a mental illness and have dated folks with mental illness and honestly I think I good tip that I never heard enough is that if there are things that happen in the relationship that you’re not OK with, it’s OK to walk away. Mental illness shouldn’t be a reason to immediately quit a relationship, but it also shouldn’t be a reason to justify every/ any behavior or to stay with someone who just isn’t in a place to give you what you need. My current partner and I agreed that even in the worst mental spaces we have to be able to be safe and we have to be able to respect each other’s boundaries.” — Taylor D.

14. “I tend to have a ‘code word’ so my partner can immediately identify I’m in a bad place without me needing to explain anything. If I say or text him that word, it means I need support, not questions. Just to feel his presence there with me can be enough to pull me back from the brink. My code word is usually ‘wobble.'” — Jenny B.

What would you add?

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

Thinkstock photo via monkeybusinessimages

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Dear Ballet Community, We Need to Start Talking Openly About Mental Illness

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There’s no artistic, poetic way to relay this thought: it is my experience that the ballet world has a pretty serious problem with the way they treat neurodiverse dancers and dancers with mental illnesses.

The ballet world often treats mental illness much like the rest of the world does — like laziness, like a character flaw, like a lack of will, like a deficiency of spirit. I’m expected to show up, put my body and mind through rigorous hoops day in and day out, do it all exceptionally well, not complain, and not let on that anything other than sunshine might be going on with my health or in my personal lives. That can mentality erase a person’s humanity.

A dancer is usually expected to “leave it all at the door” every single day. Let it all go, so to speak. But mental illness isn’t baggage you can check on your way out of the country for your company’s annual tour. Trauma doesn’t wait politely for you beyond the threshold of the studio while you focus on engaging your inner thighs in rond de jambe. Mental illness and trauma bulldoze their way into every crack of your life without your permission and make it difficult, sometimes impossible, for you to even do the things you love most in the world. But most teachers, artistic directors and choreographers don’t account for that. They, like most ballet dancers, are not-so-subtly taught from a very young age to bury, ignore, and hide whatever they’re going through outside the studio in the name of “sacrifice” for our art, under the guise of “leaving it at the door” — and they expect me to do the same.

There seems to be no room for a ballet dancer to be anything less than positive all the time. I write the possibility off entirely; even if I excel at portraying dark, brooding, tortured characters onstage, it’d be poor form if I were that way offstage, too. But we all have that one dancer in our company or community who is privately, and sometimes even publicly, sullen — the principal that never speaks to anyone, the corps girl who always seems to be tearful. But we always attribute it to a “prickly personality,” or an “incompatibility with company life” — “She’s just that way,” or “he’s just getting adjusted.” We never stop to think that there might be another reason entirely for their behavior or demeanor. That kind of emotional undermining continues for generations, and in doing that, we create a system where we reward people for their ability to ignore their own pain and praise them for their own unkindness to themselves. We make it worse by rewarding those dancers who ignore their own pain the best — we promote them, we uphold them as role models, we revere them for their “toughness” — but all too often, that toughness comes at the expense of wellness.

Of course, I can’t claim this experience to be completely universal, but I’ve talked to enough dancers from enough schools and companies around the world to know that we have a major problem. And I’m not saying we excuse poor behavior. Make no mistake, some people just suck — some people are, in fact, just lazy, whiny, mean, sulking people. But do you really think that anyone who naturally inhabits those personality traits would’ve made it this far in the world of classical ballet? I tend to think not.

So here we stand. With mental health issues on the rise among American adults, reporting that an estimated 1 in 5 Americans lives with a mental illness, statistics alone suggest that we are dancing next to someone (likely more than one person) with a mental illness every day. There’s a good chance that that person is suffering alone, ashamed of themselves — and we don’t know it. As dancers, we have the unique experience of being closely bonded to our company-mates. When you spend nearly your every waking hour together, that tends to happen. Wouldn’t it hurt you to know that someone you care about was hurting, and wouldn’t it hurt even more to know that they felt like they couldn’t tell you?

It’s been so long since the very first time someone told me to “suck it up” that I can’t remember when it was. But I know I was young enough for it to have made a serious impression on my malleable mind. After years of being told it was “all in my head,” being accused of “lacking work ethic,” being praised for my “toughness” when I buried all my feelings, and repeatedly being told to “just meditate and it will go away,” I shame spiraled myself into thinking that I was untalented, unemployable and hopeless. I shut down, just barely grasping at life for several years until I hit rock bottom in 2015 — I stopped dancing. I didn’t leave my house for nine months. I didn’t see my friends. I didn’t go to class. I refused to go to performances. Nine whole months — the time it takes to grow a life is the time it took me to almost lose my own. I drowned in my own head, overwhelmed by anxiety, unraveled by depression. When I came up for air in the late summer and felt my feet back on dry land, I started sharing what I went through with those around me. I had been convinced I was alone, but no sooner did I start sharing my experience did I discover two things: for one, I found out that I was not unique. In private conversations and under promises of keeping confidence, fellow ballet dancers shared that they were hurting too; fearful, struggling, looking for help and resources. The second, and easily more disturbing thing, was that these dancers, who want support and resources to combat what they’re going through, were being met with empty hands and deaf ears everywhere they turned. The treatment they received perpetuated the culture we’ve created in the ballet world — that we are not allowed to suffer, and on that off chance that we do suffer, we must continue on as though nothing hurts. In the long run, that doesn’t serve any of us.

So where do we go from here?

First of all, we need to actually have this conversation:

Dear artistic directors and company managers, tell your dancers you’re here for them. Have a therapist come and speak about signs and symptoms of mental illness and how to recognize them, how to support one another, and what kind of treatment options are available. Reiterate that there’s nothing inherently wrong with having a mental illness. Encourage a mentality of wholeness in your company.

Dear ballet dancers, you’re allowed to suffer without being told to “suck it up.” The truth of your suffering and pain does not negate your talent or drive as a dancer. It merely means that you are human, and that you still deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and kindness.

Follow this journey here.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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